Kenya: Good irrigation results in good harvests for pastoralists switching to horticulture (The Daily Nation)

September 16, 2019
A translation for this article is available in French

After losing nearly all his livestock to drought and bandits, John Nang’iro Ekalale switched to horticulture in 2016. Mr. Ekalale teamed up with 15 young pastoralists from Lodot, a village in northern Kenya’s Turkana county. They had all lost their livestock and wanted to try their hands at irrigated horticulture.

He says, “We didn’t know what we wanted to grow by then, and even today, it is still trial and error.” He adds that they are mainly farming tomatoes, scallions, spinach, sukuma wiki (collard greens), and indigenous vegetables. Eggplant and capsicum also grow well in this area.

The group grows crops on about 50 acres of land and has grown to more than 200 members, now farming under the name Lodot Green Growers.

Good irrigation has helped produce good harvests. Before they started farming, the 15 young men manually dug a shallow well, which luckily yielded fresh water. Paul Samal is one of the young men. He says, “We started by doing manual irrigation, where we used buckets to fetch water and sprinkle it on the crops.”

Their work caught the eye of the county government in 2017 and the German organization GIZ, which sunk two boreholes for the group.

Mr. Samal says, “We now use a solar system which helps us easily pump water from the source to the farm.”

Dan Olago is a senior lecturer at the department of geology at the University of Nairobi. He says that groundwater in Kenya, and on the entire African continent, remains a hidden resource that has not been studied exhaustively.

He says: “When people want to access groundwater, they ask experts to go out there and do a hydro-geophysical survey basically to site a borehole without necessarily understanding the characteristics of that particular aquifer.”

Water has been a hindrance to agricultural prosperity in most arid and semi-arid areas. The good news is that the latest hydrogeological research findings show that groundwater in Africa is resilient to climate change.

Patrick Munyula is an agricultural officer from Katilu ward in Turkana South. He says the county government is already mapping out boreholes with the aim of expanding irrigation. He adds that, considering the yields from the plots that have already been established by local farmers, there is much optimism that the region could soon be a breadbasket.

But while the harvest has been good, the farmers face a bigger challenge: marketing. Locally, there is not much market, as most people don’t eat a lot of vegetables.

Mr. Ekalale explains: “Horticultural crops are doing well here but the challenge is many residents don’t include them in their diets. Many times we are forced to teach them how to cook some of these foods before persuading them to buy.”

Without local markets, the farmers would like to access external markets to sell their high-value horticultural produce, but they struggle given the poor infrastructure and the distance from target markets.

But since the yields are good and fetch a little money locally, Mr. Ekalale says he will continue growing horticultural crops and even increase the number of crops he grows as residents slowly understand their nutritional significance.

Alphus Lusweti is the county agricultural officer in Loima and says that officers are currently sensitizing farmers on available markets for their products.

He says: “Beyond awareness, we are also involved in market linkages. For instance, we are linking farmers to markets such as the refugee camp in Kakuma and government institutions: mainly schools, prisons, and colleges.”

This story was adapted from an article published by The Daily Nation and originally titled, “Big harvest, no market: Pain of Turkana growers.” To read the full article, go to: https://www.nation.co.ke/business/seedsofgold/Pain-of-Turkana-growers/2301238-5255110-122d7uaz/index.html

Photo credit Daily Nation, Isaiah Esipisu